Sunday, March 23, 2008

"Politics and the English Language" Phrase of the Day: "Operation Streamline"

In sorting through a week's worth of unchecked gmail this morning, I found a recommendation (from my friend Bob of Texas Prison Bidness) for this post, at Grits For Breakfast. The short version: "Operation Streamline" is, like a great deal of federal initiatives in the last eight years, both stupid and expensive:
When you hear folks advocating mass expulsions or "securing the border," whatever that means, what you rarely hear along with it is a discussion of opportunity costs. Personally, I'd rather the US Marshals stay focused on fugitive apprehension, and I don't want the federal courts to divert their attention from sex crimes and serious violent offenses. But that's what's happening thanks to the sheer volume of immigration cases flooding Texas' southern and western federal district courts.
We just returned late last night from seven days in Guatemala (and a short excursion into Chiapas), where we visited with -- and were very graciously hosted by -- the Preists, volunteers, and workers who administer the network of Scalabrinian Casas del Migrante. Assisting on a documentary project focused on the network of these houses in Mexico (Nuevo Laredo, Tijuana, Tapachula) and Guatemala (Guatemala City, Tecun Uman), we spent the week interviewing migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, along with those dedicated to the Sclabrinian mission of providing some temporary comfort and security to them. I'll post more in coming days (if I can; I'm ill-prepared for a coming conference next weekend), especially after I have some photos developed (also included: fruit pictures).

Many of the migrants I talked to -- especially along the Mexico-Guatemala border in Tecun Uman and Tapachula -- are aware of "Operation Streamline." One told me he plans not to try to re-enter the United States as a result. Clamor for punishment of 'illegals' notwithstanding, deterrence is the goal of "Operation Streamline;" it's working for this guy, at least. Others, undeterred by the sentencing, understand that they represent profit to prison operators. They know Wackenhut, they know CCA. They think it's funny that we can't think of a better way to spend the payroll taxes they've paid than to put them in jail for a few months before deporting them to Central America.

The focus on financial costs as opposed to human costs (in both the Grits for Breakfast post and the Dallas Morning News article from which it is derived) is troubling and embarrassing. As usual, the economic argument means more to us than the ethically difficult realities that we're detaining people by the thousands, that their incarceration profits private corporations, that we are actively separating parents and children. I won't dispute that our focus on money suits us well; but many migrants among us understand the relationship between economies and human lives a great deal more deeply than those of us here in the States.

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